All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

on January 18, 2019

Home Fire
Kamila Shamsie
Riverhead Books
2017, 274p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

The suspenseful and heartbreaking story of an immigrant family driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences.

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

I read this at a time where the Australian immigration minister is attempting to revoke the citizenship of an Australian who went to fight for the Islamic State. Apparently through his father, this fighter (Neil Prakash) holds Fijian citizenship but Fiji are disputing this, claiming that he’s not a citizen. I don’t know how this works – pretty sure Australia can’t just decide that people have citizenship to another country, if they say they don’t. Apparently Australian citizenship can only be revoked if the person has committed acts of terrorism and if they are a dual citizen. Given Fiji claim that he isn’t a Fijian citizen, that may mean Prakash holds only Australian citizenship, which means it cannot be revoked as it would leave him stateless which is forbidden by international law.

In Home Fires, Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz are the children of a man who fought in places like Bosnia and Chechnya for Islamic armies during those wars in the 1990s. Back then it was a different time – the fighters all came home to their families during the winter and went back to fight in the summer. He was barely a blip on the radar of his children’s lives before he was captured and died on his way to Guantanamo Bay. Now, years later, Aneeka and Parvaiz (twins) are adults and their older sister Isma is free to pursue the academic dreams she put on hold to raise them after the death of their mother. Parvaiz complicates things by going to Raqqa, recruited to the Islamic cause. The British Home Secretary, himself the son of Muslim immigrants has made it a thing to revoke citizenship of British people who fight for ISIS. When Parvaiz wants to come home, he finds himself without a way to return to the country he was raised in.

This is a modern day retelling of the story of Antigone. I’m not really familiar with it but if you are, then you will be able to guess the direction in which the story goes. Because I wasn’t, I didn’t realise immediately the fate that would befall Parvaiz and how that plays out in the rest of the book. The book is divided into parts – Isma, Aneeka, Parvaiz, the British Home Secretary Karamat and also his son, Eamonn all get a turn at narrating the story. We start with Isma and her journey to the United States to take up further study at the invitation of a past professor. Isma is interrogated for so long that she misses her plane, questioned relentlessly as to her intentions and her “Britishness” – queried on her thoughts on things like the Queen and Great British Bake Off of all things. When she arrives in the US, the reader learns why she is of such interest, as the story of her father unfolds and the revelation that her brother has also taken up the cause in a bid to understand the mystery of the man that was their father. Isma meets Eamonn by chance in a coffee shop and they strike up a friendship. When Eamonn returns to London and delivers something to Isma’s aunt as a favour to Isma, he meets Aneeka……who sees opportunity.

This book raises so many interesting talking points. I don’t agree with automatic revoking of citizenship because a person makes a bad choice, such as Parvaiz in this book. I can also understand governments wanting to deter people from making that same choice, and it being difficult to return ‘home’ is one of the ways in which they seek to do it. However I don’t think it necessarily works in the way that they want it to, because people aren’t thinking about that when they make the decision to take up this cause. And every individual case is different – some are teenagers, barely even adults legally or emotionally and radicalisation is done in so many different ways, there are so many promises. People that are truly vulnerable are targeted, such as Parvaiz, who is lost. His parents are both dead, the sister who raised him is leaving to pursue her academic goals. His twin is brilliant and clever and at university and he is treading water. He is easily swayed by some stories about his father and the gilding of a lily. It isn’t the people like Parvaiz that governments should want to punish – it’s the people that got him there.

What happens to Parvaiz in the after raises yet more talking points. I don’t really want to go into too much to spoil the story but it’s another case of there being two points to easily debate, and in most cases there aren’t really any winners. The government don’t win either way really, seen as too soft or too hard and there’s no winning for Aneeka either. I didn’t always like Aneeka but I admired her courage, her devotion to her twin, her willingness to put herself in the most awful of positions for what she thought was right and what they deserved. I also appreciated the very brief insight into the lives of their cousins in Pakistan (and presumably, similar countries), who suffer for the choices of others made in countries far away and are often forced to repatriate and bury the dead of those killed for the ISIS cause when other countries refuse the bodies. That’s something I never considered before either, how the families from the originating countries deal with the choices made by the members that have emigrated elsewhere. In this book, Parvaiz uses his Pakistani cousins as cover, claiming to be going there rather than to Raqqa and they face the reality of being lied to, the shame of being used as an alibi and also the judgement of those in the community of having relatives going to the cause and then the responsibility of the bodies when things go wrong.

I’m not sure how I didn’t hear of Kamila Shamsie until this book but she has lots of others that I absolutely need to try and read, starting with Burnt Shadows I think. It seems a little inadequate to say I enjoyed this – because it’s not exactly filled with the sort of things that I enjoy reading. But I definitely appreciated it – the differing narrators ,the intricacies of immigrant families and the struggle to be seen as ‘making the effort’ to fit in, to adapt and embrace their new country, lest they be deemed suspicious. And then there’s the lure of the unknown, the ’cause’ and how it can all go wrong….and what the families are left with, trying to piece together enough to grieve over.


Book #8 of 2019

Home Fire is perfect for the Reading Women Challenge – it ticks a lot of boxes and I could probably use it to check off several but I’m trying to read 26 individual books for the prompts. I’m going to tick off #15 here – written by a South Asian author. Kamila Shamsie was born in Karachi, Pakistan.

One response to “Review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

  1. […] Written by a South Asian author – Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. My review. […]

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